Businesses were rated Covid secure without being inspected
PUBLISHED: 09:10 08 October 2020 | UPDATED: 09:10 08 October 2020
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Businesses in St Albans were listed as “compliant” with new coronavirus safety rules without even being inspected.
Data obtained by the Herts Advertiser revealed 64 per cent of St Albans premises “spot-checked” by the national Health and Safety Executive (HSE) were only questioned by telephone.
But Mandy McNeil – portfolio holder for business at St Albans Council – reassured residents that council officers were “working 24/7 and at weekends” to help businesses protect staff and customers.
She said: “I’m horrified but not surprised. It’s pretty stunning what’s going on nationally. But locally, our team have been bending over backwards.”
Between June and August, the HSE “spot-checked” 11 workplaces in St Albans. But the Advertiser has discovered only four of them received site visits. The rest were subjected to “remote” spot-checks, conducted by phone.
The revelation came as infection rates continued to rise across the UK, including in St Albans.
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When the Advertiser took its findings to council leader Chris White, he said: “You’re kidding me? I’m astonished. I’m absolutely stunned.
“I mean, if it weren’t so serious, it would be funny. It’s not even worth the phone call, in my view. What sort of answer are they likely to get to a phone conversation like that? ‘No, we are not compliant, actually – I think it’s all a big conspiracy, go away’? That’s not going to happen, is it.
“It’s deeply concerning. This is another part of the nation’s Covid infrastructure that’s not even close to working properly. I will certainly be raising it with MPs and national organisations.”
Cllr McNeil said she had only received “a handful” of complaints about businesses failing to follow Covid-19 rules, most of which related to large, national chains.
“They are typically not about businesses which are part of our independent hospitality and retail association,” she said.
A HSE spokesperson said the telephone calls were made by “specially trained operators, who follow a set of questions compiled by HSE experts on Covid compliance.”
The body said it would make sure standards were being met by “visiting a number of the businesses who have told us they have all the right measures in place. This ensures what we are being told is happening in practice.”
It added: “Where businesses fail to comply, this could lead to prosecution.”
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